DHS Secretary: gov shutdown "means furloughing employees"
February 8th, 2015
04:29 PM ET

DHS Secretary: gov shutdown "means furloughing employees"

Today on CNN’s State of the Union, Dana Bash speaks to the Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson about national security and the fate of Homeland Security funding.

 VIDEOS

 Johnson: Head of Secret Service to be chosen "soon"

Feds: People in U.S. in contact with ISIS

DHS Secretary on securing American hostages

Johnson: Furloughs coming at DHS if funding stalls

TEXT HIGHLIGHTS

Johnson on the Congressional budget: I am on Capitol Hill now virtually every working day talking to Democrats and Republicans about the importance of a fully funded Department of Homeland Security in these times in particular. We're on a continuing resolution right now, which, as you point out, expires on February 27, which is less than 20 days at this point. And, as long as we're on a continuing resolution, that, in and of itself, creates uncertainty about how we go about our Homeland Security missions. And, if we go into government shutdown, for example, that means furloughing employees, furloughing Homeland Security officials. As Craig Fugate, the administrator of FEMA, pointed out the other day, if we go into government shutdown, he's got to furlough something like 80 percent of his FEMA work force. And so I'm on the Hill every day stressing the importance of a fully funded Department of Homeland Security, separate and apart from riders to try to defund our efforts to reform the immigration system.”

Johnson on the global terrorist threat: “We have evolved to a new phase in the global terrorist threat, in that, 13 years ago, when we were attacked on 9/11, we had a relatively conventional command-and-control structure from core al Qaeda that would dispatch, deploy operatives to commit terrorist acts. The situation now is more decentralized, more diffuse, and frankly more complex, in that terrorist organizations such as ISIL or al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula use the Internet, use social media to communicate and to inspire acts of terrorism in individuals' home countries.  And for that reason, we need to be particularly vigilant here at home, working with state and local law enforcement, working with the public through campaigns such As If You See Something, Say Something. “

FULL TRANSCRIPT

THIS IS A RUSH FDCH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

 

BASH: A member of the Senate Intelligence Committee tells CNN there's no reason to believe ISIS is, in his words, moving beyond what until now have been aspirations to attack the U.S. homeland. But, as the threat grows, the Department of Homeland Security may shut down in a matter of weeks because Congress is blocking its money in a partisan fight over immigration.

We're joined now exclusively by the U.S. homeland security secretary, Jeh Johnson.

And, Mr. Secretary, thanks for coming in.

Before we get to that, I want to ask about what you just heard the report about Kayla Mueller. You heard her say that she knew the risks of going into a place like Syria. The State Department advises U.S. citizens not to do that.

Given that, what should the U.S. responsibility be to go in and get hostages?

JEH JOHNSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: Well, obviously, we're learning as much as we can as quickly as we can about Ms. Mueller's situation. Our thoughts, our prayers, our concerns are with her family right now.

You're correct. The State Department advises against travel in that particular part of the region right now. It is dangerous. People need to be cautious. And we do what we can to ensure the safety of Americans who travel. That part of the world right now is obviously a very, very challenging situation.

BASH: Should the U.S. be responsible for going and rescuing hostages who are going, even though the U.S. State Department says it's just too dangerous?

JOHNSON: Well, we know from prior examples that, where we can, we do our best to secure the safety of Americans held hostage by terrorist organizations.

And so it's something that we continually evaluate our ability to do in this region, but it is a very, very challenging situation, obviously.

BASH: OK.

So, let's talk about the jihadists overall. Americans looking at this, looking at the fighting, you know, probably constantly saying, how does this affect me, how does this affect the United States, and say, why does it matter?

John (sic) Steinbach, who is the FBI's counterterrorism division head, told CNN's Pam Brown about an example of why it should matter. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: There are ISIS cells in the U.S. MICHAEL STEINBACH, FBI ASSISTANT DIRECTOR OF COUNTERTERRORISM: There are individuals that have been in communication with groups like ISIL who have a desire to conduct an attack, yes.

BROWN: That are living in the U.S. right now?

STEINBACH: Correct.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: People who are in contact with ISIL living in the U.S. right now. How many are we talking about?

JOHNSON: Well, Dana, I would put it this way. We have evolved to a new phase in the global terrorist threat, in that, 13 years ago, when we were attacked on 9/11, we had a relatively conventional command-and-control structure from core al Qaeda that would dispatch, deploy operatives to commit terrorist acts.

The situation now is more decentralized, more diffuse, and frankly more complex, in that terrorist organizations such as ISIL or al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula use the Internet, use social media to communicate and to inspire acts of terrorism in individuals' home countries.

And for that reason, we need to be particularly vigilant here at home, working with state and local law enforcement, working with the public through campaigns such As If You See Something, Say Something.

BASH: But...

JOHNSON: It is a more complex situation, very clearly.

BASH: Certainly complex, but, if I may, can you shed more light on what we just heard? Do you have a handle on who the individuals are and how many there are in the United States who are in contact...

(CROSSTALK)

JOHNSON: The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security do a pretty good job of tracking the travel of individuals of suspicion, of investigating potential acts of terror or material support to terrorism.

Just this past Friday, there were arrests of five individuals who were providing material support, allegedly, to ISIL. So, our law enforcement community does what I believe is a pretty good job of tracking these individuals. And we work with them to track the travel of individuals of suspicion.

BASH: Can you give us a sense? Are we talking about five, 10, 100, 1,000? What's - give us the context of the...

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: ... that we're talking about.

JOHNSON: Well, what I can say is this.

The numbers that we see are larger in European countries. And that's one of the reasons why we're concerned about travel to and from Europe and making sure that we have got the appropriate security assurances from countries from which we - for which we do not require a visa.

But here at home, we do a pretty good job of tracking these individuals. And we have, in a number of instances, arrested people for material support, for attempting to travel to Syria, for example.

Obviously, there's an unknown factor, but I believe we have the systems in place to do a pretty good job of tracking these individuals through law enforcement, through - through travel, through our efforts to monitor what they're doing.

BASH: So people should feel you have got it covered?

JOHNSON: People should be vigilant right now.

Yes, we should have a lot of confidence in our homeland security law enforcement capabilities. We have come a long way since 9/11. But this also requires working with the public in campaigns through If You See Something, Say Something, working with state and local law enforcement, the cop on the beat working in the communities, which is why we're working more closely now with municipal police departments, county sheriffs, state law enforcement, through fusion centers, task forces, and so forth.

Given how the homeland security challenges we face are evolving, it's becoming all the more important to do that.

BASH: OK.

Let's turn to the Department of Homeland Security and the fight that's going on right now that could potentially shut down your department or at least keep funding out of your department.

I also want you to look at the calendar to - so people understand how close we are to the deadline for that happening. It's February 27. Here we are, just a little more than two weeks away, and we should note that, by the way, Congress is out of town. They're not working for one of those weeks, so it makes it incredibly difficult.

Tell us where things stand right now. It is a standoff over the idea that Republicans are trying to push funding this bill along with making sure that the president's executive order on immigration doesn't happen.

JOHNSON: Dana, I am on Capitol Hill now virtually every working day talking to Democrats and Republicans about the importance of a fully funded Department of Homeland Security in these times in particular.

We're on a continuing resolution right now, which, as you point out, expires on February 27, which is less than 20 days at this point. And, as long as we're on a continuing resolution, that, in and of itself, creates uncertainty about how we go about our Homeland Security missions.

And, if we go into government shutdown, for example, that means furloughing employees, furloughing Homeland Security officials. As Craig Fugate, the administrator of FEMA, pointed out the other day, if we go into government shutdown, he's got to furlough something like 80 percent of his FEMA work force.

And so I'm on the Hill every day stressing the importance of a fully funded Department of Homeland Security, separate and apart from riders to try to defund our efforts to reform the immigration system.

BASH: And are you getting...

JOHNSON: If people in Congress want to have that debate about immigration reform, let's have that debate, but don't tie that to funding public safety at Homeland Security for the American people. We need a fully funded department right now.

BASH: Actually, since you mentioned the - the potential risks, I just also want to point out that, in your own contingency plan in 2013 if there were a shutdown then, nearly 90 percent of Border Patrol agents would still have to work, 85 percent of ICE agents, and 93 percent of TSA officials. They would have to come to work without pay, but they would have to come to work.

So, is it really going to be that big of a deal to most of your agency to - when it comes to the risks to this country?

JOHNSON: Yes, it is that big of a deal.

Let's not forget the Department of Homeland Security interfaces with the American public more than any other department of our government at airports, at ports. And so to just say, well, we will just make them come to work without pay, first of all, is a real challenge for the working men and women of my department.

Second, it means furloughing at least 30,000 of our department and cutting back very significantly on our operations, our operations to pursue homeland security. So, this is not a situation to make light of. In these challenging times, we need a fully funded Department of Homeland Security right now.

BASH: And you mentioned the continuing resolution. That's sort of official Washington-speak for the fact that this - that your department has - they have kicked the can down the road for many years, and not started - started anew.

And what has that meant for your ability to face new threats? Because threats change every day.

JOHNSON: As long as we're on a continuing resolution, we are, first of all, restricted to last year's spending levels. But we are not allowed to fund new initiatives, new initiatives for border security, for example, new initiatives to hire more Secret Service agents for the coming presidential election cycle, new initiatives to fund grants.

We fund in excess of $2 billion a year in grants to state and local law enforcement for homeland security, for surveillance equipment, for communications commitment. And, as long as we're on a C.R., I cannot fund those new initiatives, which should be of serious concern to sheriffs, police chiefs, mayors, and governors.

BASH: Before I let you go, I have to ask you about the Secret Service, which is underneath your department.

It seems like, every week, there is some kind of breach at the White House. This past week, we saw what happened with the drones. The Secret Service is now acting without an actual director. How far away are we from your interview process finishing up on that?

JOHNSON: We're not far away.

We're taking a serious look at candidates for permanent director. And the president and I recognize that the Secret Service is the finest protection service in the world, but we - we need significant change in how the agency conducts business.

That was one of the findings of the independent panel. And I thought that their work was fair and thorough. And so we're looking at a new permanent director. And I think we will have one pretty soon.

BASH: And, as somebody who oversees the Secret Service, when you hear a drone has landed at the White House, do you say, are you kidding me? Again?

I mean, what is your reaction when you hear this kind of breach? Because the public is also - is obviously saying, how does this kind of thing...

(CROSSTALK)

JOHNSON: In the last couple of months, we have added security to the White House compound, in light of the fence-jumping incident.

It's important to remember that securing the White House compound, the protection of the first family and other national leaders is a balance between providing for their physical safety, but we live in democracy where people want transparency, they want access to their national leaders and the buildings and the structures of government. And so it means striking the appropriate balance.

BASH: Mr. Secretary, thank you so much.

I think I'm going to see you roaming the halls of Congress, looking for some kind of solution to your funding problem in the next couple of weeks.

JOHNSON: You certainly will. Thank you. BASH: When they're working, at least.

Thank you. Thank you so much.

END


Topics: CNN • Dana Bash • Iraq • ISIS • State of the Union
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